Black metal icon Gaahl discusses his artwork exhibit at By Norse Fest

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London By Norse, the three-day festival of Nordic art and culture is soon upon us, running from March 17-19 across London and featuring three, career-spanning Enslaved shows, Enslaved guitarist Ivar Peerson’s Bardspec project and a workshop from Wardruna frontman Einar Selvik and culminating at the Coronet at Elepant & Castle with Wardruna themselves and the first UK performance of Ivar and Einar’s collaborative Skuggsjá project.

On March 19, the Coronet will also play host to the first UK exhibition of artwork by renowned black metal vocalist Kristian ‘Gaahl’ Espedal. First shown at November’s Blekkmetal festival in Bergen, Norway, Gaahl’s haunting and immersive paintings often show figures both lost in private reveries and engaged in ambiguous rituals where the overall coldness of colour tone and isolated nature of its figures still suggests a vast reservoir of emotion seeping out from beneath the surface.

We spoke to Gaahl about his approach to his art and what we can expect from the forthcoming exhibition.

The artwork is another side of you that not many people have seen before. Is it a very different discipline? It’s obviously a much more private thing to do.

“Yes, it is very private. It’s something that you do completely isolated, and music of course, you tend to work with others. I’d never thought of presenting the paintings before Blekkmetal, but when you have a house full of artwork then you need to refresh your own mind by releasing them.”

Is art something that you have a background in?

Actually, not too much, but I’ve done this equally seriously for the same amount of time as the music. Actually, I started the art prior to music, but it’s gone hand in hand, even though they’re not portraying the same energies. But I’m self-taught when it comes to painting. I’m not a technician, I’m just a child when it comes to art, and the same goes for being a vocalist. If I knew what I did, I wouldn’t do it.”

The artwork is another side of you that not many people have seen before. Is it a very different discipline? It’s obviously a much more private thing to do.

“Yes, it is very private. It’s something that you do completely isolated, and music of course, you tend to work with others. I’d never thought of presenting the paintings before Blekkmetal, but when you have a house full of artwork then you need to refresh your own mind by releasing them.”

Is art something that you have a background in?

“Actually, not too much, but I’ve done this equally seriously for the same amount of time as the music. Actually, I started the art prior to music, but it’s gone hand in hand, even though they’re not portraying the same energies. But I’m self-taught when it comes to painting. I’m not a technician, I’m just a child when it comes to art, and the same goes for being a vocalist. If I knew what I did, I wouldn’t do it.”

Letting these visions take form in the way that they have, has this been a journey of discovery for you?

“I don’t know how to answer that, because I just live by my own emotions. There’s nothing I want to ‘achieve’ in that sense, so I just do what I feel like, and some sorts of patterns come out of it, and some things you return to more than others.”

Because you don’t have that training, and because you go so much by emotion, is there something you feel like a medium for?

“Well, there’s one aspect that I’ve noticed now, when I’ve seen myself in retrospect and what I’ve done – I see that when I didn’t speak to people, I used to be better at putting my thoughts into the artworks, and when you speak to people, you feel like you don’t need to put them into the art. I’ve used a lot of people I’ve met and observed and captured their emotion and not necessarily their sadness but what they’re not explaining and telling their surroundings. In the last 10 years now I’ve been better at just going up to them and telling them ‘I see this in you’, so it’s been a dialogue for my own observation of others’ energies, and probably my own energies as well. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have recognised them.”

For someone who’s yet to see the paintings, how would you describe them?

“They’re figurative works, it’s not naturalistic or anything, and it’s not like they’re direct portrait of anyone, but I drag the persona into something. Of course, it’s not only this, but those are the works that survive the most for me in a sense. It’ll be very interesting to see them in the perspective of others because I can go an communicate with the paintings whenever, but it will be interesting to put them out of the private setting, and see if I maybe observe something I haven’t before. In a way, I’m more in that realm at the moment than the musical realm.”

How are you approaching the By Norse exhibition? Will it be different from the Blekkmetal exhibit?

“I have an idea of presenting the artwork even more simplistically in London, and it has to do with the use of colour. Maybe I disappear from colour. Colour can fool your idea of emotion and when you strip it away and simplify things then it might be easier to catch the actual emotion that is there. It’s hard to imagine if you haven’t seen the work already – it’s not what people think I would paint, hahah!”

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Gaahl’s exhibition runs at the Coronet on March 19

There are a very small number of day tickets for By Norse left, so head down to the website to snap them up, get the full festival schedule and more here!